Archive for February, 2010
Tiny update in that I’ve changed the email address for notification. It was set to an email address I check only once or twice a week (if I remember). It has now been changed to one that I check on a daily basis. So, any comments made by people will not now sit for a few days in the pending tray but should be looked at and processed much more quickly.
To be honest I had trouble writing this as Medusa’s Children, although a fine novel, was one that I could never really commit to one hundred percent. I’ve been working on this piece for a couple of months and progress has been slow. When I first started reading the book there was the delight of the new, reading a new work from a favourite author, and of being led through the story for the first time. It was an enjoyable journey first time around but didn’t leave as much of an impression as some of Bob Shaw’s other works.
I didn’t really warm to Medusa’s Children too much when I first read it, in paperback, years and years ago. The book itself, physically, was pretty tightly bound, and there were some cracks after reading as I had to pull the pages more to make get them more open. The same thing happened to my paperback copy of Other Days Other Eyes; perhaps too much glue in the binding and the books themselves weren’t as pliable as most other paperbacks. Also I didn’t feel that the subject matter was as exciting as that of other books written by Bob Shaw.
The paperback was brand new when I bought it, bright and shining even though the paperback itself was printed in 1978. It was bought from the Science Fiction Bookshop in Edinburgh in the middle eighties (oops, we are in another century now so I will have to qualify that as the mid 1980s) just when I was just getting into Bob Shaw.
As I mentioned it was brand new bright and shiny when bought but when I picked it out to go through it again for the purposes of this piece it had acquired that old book smell. Quite recently I purchased a Gollancz hardback edition of the novel which was signed by Bob Shaw.
The book is set in the seas and not in outer space or dealing with other dimensions. It felt a little closer to fantasy than science fiction to me and I’m afraid I wasn’t one hundred per cent captured by the premise when I read it first. Very little of the book sticks in my memory and I had to re read it to refresh myself on the contents of the book before starting this post.
Straight away Shaw drags us into a strange world so much different from our own. As I said this novel is set underwater and we are first introduced to Myrah. She awakes from sleep, sure that there is something wrong; that the children she is protecting, watching over, are in danger. The danger proves nonexistent and Shaw then starts to develop the characters and situation, bringing us information and showing us the underwater society.
Hal Tarrant is ex air force and relatively new to Cawley Island farm. He has an encounter with seemingly intelligent squid which affects him quite a bit as he is a little reluctant to admit to himself the squid are working together to steal and eat the algae that he farms. He had noted a loss, as unsure how it was being stolen but was a little unwilling to accept it was squid, even as he was seeing it.
In Myrah’s world the humans – The Clan – are diminishing in numbers and she can see little future for them. This is confirmed at a Council meeting as it is said The Home is in danger and a call is made for volunteers to ‘follow the new current as far into the darkness as it will take them.’
Interesting to note that in this time of Climate Change and the controversy surrounding it Shaw mentions the Bergmann Hypothesis. I’ll have to do some checking to see if it’s something Shaw made up or a scientific proposal he used. (Wehey, There is a Bergmann’s Rule but I’m not sure if it’s the same Bergmann. I found a PDF online called ‘Climate change, body size evolution, and Cope’s Rule in deep-sea ostracodes’, authored – I kid you not – by Gene Hunt.) ‘Every now and then’ it is explained in Shaw’s book, ‘we get an ice age, and sometimes the pendulum swings the other way and we get a freakish warm period.’ This is how Shaw sums up the Bergmann Hypothesis. The copyright on the book is 1977, long before Climate science entered the public consciousness.
Myrah is among the group that sets out to explore the possibility of a new home for the Clan. They are attacked by Horra, squid that can kill humans quickly and effectively, but to her surprise they are not killed, but taken to the home of Ka, the strange being the Clan fear
After coming face to face, mind to mind, with Ka Myrah and the group reach the surface and from then on her life and the life of Hal become more intertwined. The novel touches on the hive mind, in a different way as done by others; for example Theodore Sturgeon in More Than Human.
The book is interesting and worth a read but I didn’t find it as engrossing or captivating as other Shaw novels, or even his short stories. The characters are not as memorable as some of Shaw’s other creations, and aren’t as well drawn or in depth. Having said that I think it is well plotted and rolls along at a reasonable pace, with revelations at appropriate places and logical enough to keep the reader on track. I did feel it was closer to a fantasy novel than straight forward science fiction and I do stick to that. It’s not one of Shaw’s best in my opinion but worth the time if you’re inclined to explore its’ world.
I’ve checked and double checked – and will continue to check – but it looks like I’ve only two more Gollancz hard back editions of Bob Shaw’s work to get. These are 1 Million Tomorrows and Palace of Eternity. Then I’ll have a full set of Shaw works in Gollancz hardbacks. With concentrating on getting the hardbacks and looking out for the best prices this has sort of crept up on me. Last year it was a monumental task I had to carry out, now it’s just a bit of tidying up.
Although, the ones still to get are tricky; they are both early novels from the late sixties and early seventies and they don’t come cheap or pop up in availability a lot.
It’s taken at least a year (and a fair amount of money) to complete my collection but even when I do have all the books in Gollancz hardback I’ve still got a lot of Shaw to find. Shaw had four short story collections but he published a lot more short stories. Luckily I have a bibliography which can help me identify the magazines and track them down.
Before the internet it was hard to track down Bob Shaw’s work, you’d wander round J R Hartley like asking if they have it: now it’s just a matter of typing in his name in search engines and book sites.
I wasn’t too much into magazines when reading SF, it was always books. I suppose mainly because I was either buying them or borrowing them from the library. I subscribe to Interzone now but SF magazines have never been a big purchase.
Palace of Eternity is a gripping story, space opera like with very vivid aliens, and it’s a very memorable novel, dedicated to E A Van Vogt.